On the ‘itch’ within the Witch

I believe Traditional Witchcraft is a poetic reality humming the nocturnal mysteries of Night. I believe the Witch is concerned with Solace and comfort, the same solace we find resting in the Night. I believe the Witch is a creature tied to the land whose heart is a crossroad where the fire of Need gushes forth from the fountain of the soul like a veiled spring of fiery droplets of gold and silver.

The Witch is solace, it be the solace we see as we enter the door to the other side, the solace of peace given to self and others, it be the solace coming from the nightmare given by Beautiful Ladies and Man Dragons. The Witch is solace, but he or she, is a dweller of Night. Night is mystery and the shadowy forms of night will at times be perceived as terrifying and threatening in their guises of protectors of the witches’ solace.

In Yorùbáland the concept of witchcraft is understood to be a form of power some are born with, yet it can also be inherited, that is intimately linked with the presence and absence of chaos and cataclysm. This doesn’t mean that witches, or Ajé and Òsó, the Yorùbá terms for witches are destructive forces. It means that they are by birth and nature related to forces of a chaotic and disturbing dimension and can serve as doors that open for these powers or keep them at bay. In spite of the witch-hunt in Western Africa instigated by Pentecostal denominations, the traditional view upon the presence of a witch in one’s community was not about destroying the witch, but appeasing her. This done the entire community would experience abundance because the witch at peace would be a source of solace and absence of everything chaotic.

Everywhere in the world we encounter the witch he or she is liminal and enigmatic. Its presence ignites awe, fear and mystery. Gerhild S. Williams in the preface to de Lancre’s missive about the Basque witches writes: “Witchcraft, on the other hand, constituted an aggression against all living souls and against all public order” (On the Inconstancy of Witches: xxix, 2006. Arizona State university) de Lancre himself was occupied with the ‘inconsistency of the witches’ and his entire treatise is born from a confusion of these people he tried to place in a box, a people that refused to abide to his taxonomies.

Similar ideas are found in Scandinavia concerning the Völva and the followers of Odin. They are both related to the meaning and essence of witchcraft, the Völva as a prophetess and regulator or Seidr and Odin as a gandrmadr/trollkarl or wizard. The Völva made part of the organized religious and political order, but yet in a liminal way, as a figure accepted due to social need. Her presence on a farm was always subject to hardship and chaos infecting a farm, and thus her services were called upon. If she came unannounced, as was also the case with the followers of Odin, they always came with a sense of eerie terror, even thou solace was a promise in the end of their visit to the farm. If we add to this the classic treatises about the nature of witches and their craft given by Ginzburg in his book Ecstasies, Baroja in his work The World of the Witches and the presence of the Devil in amongst the brethrens of the Horseman’s word and in Craft traditions in the Balkan and picture emerges. This picture is pained with strokes of solace on a field of night and mystery. This picture is tied up on poles of fire, need and chaos. Fire, need and chaos are almost like the gunas, or energetic pathways, of the witch speaking of chaos black, fire white and need red as blood.  

This means, the witch is a creature, a being, which is lodged within the structure of creation. Creation reveals herself in nature and Nature is as Robert Graves wrote ‘red of teeth and claw’. This does not signal any evil, but it do often defy social orders – and the more profane they are – the more they are defied. As we see in de Lancre’s treatise about the Basque witches, his frustration was caused by using a good/evil dichotomy resting on a Christian framework of mythology and ideology to make sense of the witchy customs of the peasant dwellers in the Pyreneans and he did little but giving a presentation of what confused him, which was a lot, concluding they were all in error in the practice of diabolism. These people de Lancre studied were people of Land and Need. People who realized that was what revealed under the Sun had its source ultimately in the wonders and mysteries of the Night. And so, it was always about a different form of perception. And so naturally, for people giving attention to the fluid and foggy ways of night before the orderly roads made under the Sun, they were seen as inconsistent and flickering, like the ruler of the Night, the Moon.

The witch is always someone who knows more, not necessarily by knowledge, but by the wisdom that speaks in intuition. The witch is not a creature of superstition, or of linear profane logic and science. The witch is hope and terror. It is the child of the watchers, fiery earth dressed in the enigmas of stars. The craft of the witch is always about the land and of the stars, because land is riddled with fallen stars. Stars move as earth moves and times are changing. The witch is a friend of change and change occurs when the powers of the crossroad takes hold of her soul as she remains at hedge and borders, watching, while not making part. The ethos of the Witch is amoral and therefore she will often be invited in her absence.     

The Witch is involved, but in an aloof way, because she knows when you become involved you turn into a part of the problem and it makes solace impossible. The witch is not only what is at the end of a pointed finger, as Peter Grey wrote, but she is also a memory of flux, a warning against stagnation. The witch is not found in social codes and rules, she defies them in what she or he is, and in this the Witch becomes a motion restless to behold – a memory of something forgotten – that aim to inspire us to take three steps back and allow the Devil to hold us in our fall...

Illustration by Goya